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    Archive for January, 2009

    Numbers Game: A Little Too Much-O

    Del Taco’s “Macho” bacon-and-egg breakfast burrito (pictured at right) starts the morning off with _____ calories, _____ percent of a day’s worth of saturated fat, and _____ percent of a day’s worth of sodium.

    a) 1,200/76/91
    b) 1,030/100/73
    c) 980/62/84

    d) 870/120/67

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Monday for the answer!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Cilantro

    I have heard that something in cilantro is supposed to help prevent food borne illness?

    — Kristin
    (via the blog)

    A few years ago, food scientists discovered a compound in cilantro (both fresh leaves as well as seeds, more commonly known as coriander) named dodecenal which was found to be quite effective at destroying the Salmonella virus.

    That is not to say, however, that cilantro guarantees you a foodborne illness-free meal.

    Turns out you need to eat the same amount (weight wise) of cilantro as the offending food to offset food poisoning.

    So, if your six-ounce chicken breast contains salmonella, you would theoretically need to eat six ounces of cilantro to experience any protective effects.

    A fun fact, nevertheless!

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    According to statistics from the World Health Organization, low intake of fruits and vegetables is estimated to be the major factor behind 19 percent of gastrointestinal cancer cases and 31 percent of ischaemic heart disease in the world.

    In their World Health Report — a highly reputable summary of several facets of global health, including nutrition — The World Health Organization specifies that “low fruit and vegetable intake is among the top 10 risk factors contributing to attributable mortality.”

    This 2002 Danish study published in Public Health Nutrition goes further into detail on this matter.

    This is why I like to think of meeting your daily vegetable servings as a contribution to your nutritional retirement account!

    The earlier you start and the more you contribute to it, the better off you are more likely to be in your later years.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Salmonella in Peanut Butter

    Okay, [I always thought] salmonella is usually [related to eating] eggs or meat.

    Peanut butter is primarily three things: peanuts, oil, salt.

    Sometimes [they add] sugar or another sweetener.

    How, then, does salmonella end up in peanut butter?

    — Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    The ingredient list can even be shorter! Remember, many brands of peanut butter consist of nothing but peanuts.

    Your question — which is excellent, by the way — is one that many food safety experts are asking themselves (while vividly remembering the eerily similar E.Coli-infested spinach outbreak of 2007.)

    Part of the issue here is that the United States does not have one central agency overseeing issues of food safety.

    Consequently, sources of contamination are hard to track and contain.

    Additionally, most of the focus on food safety (from random inspections to consistent monitoring) is relegated to meat processing plants, as they are considered “high risk” operations.

    In short, the vague answer to your question is: “unsanitary plant conditions.”

    This could mean anything from animal feces somehow ending up in the peanut butter (think a bird or two somehow getting inside the facility) or dirty equipment being used in the processing of peanut butter.

    What is practically a given is that the contamination had to have occurred after the roasting and grinding process (both of these use extremely high temperatures that kill all strands of the salmonella virus.)

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    You Ask, I Answer: Caffeine and Pregnancy

    My friend and I are both pregnant, but the advice we have gotten about caffeine [intake] during our pregnancy is very different.

    My doctor was vague. He said that caffeine “once in a while” was okay.

    Her doctor said she should refrain from having any.

    Isn’t that too strict?

    — Marcia (last name withheld)
    (location withheld)

    Unless there are specific conditions that put your friend at a high risk for miscarrying, I am not sure I understand the reasoning behind the “completely abstain from caffeine” recommendation.

    Although liberal consumption is not recommended for pregnant women, it is believed they can safely consume up to 200 milligrams of caffeine per day without placing their developing fetus’ health at risk (the main concerns being a higher risk for miscarriages as well as problems with cellular development).

    Sticking to less than 200 milligrams of caffeine each day isn’t really too difficult.

    A 12 ounce can of Coca Cola, for instance, only contains 35 milligrams.

    Your average 8 ounce cup of green tea adds 50 milligrams to your day, and a 16 ounce latte (that’s “grande” if you speak Starbucks) clocks in at 150 milligrams.

    For those who like a stronger cup of Joe, the average 8 ounce cup of percolated coffee clocks in at anywhere from 130 to 200 milligrams of caffeine.

    Other sources — like coffee ice cream or a chocolate bar — offer very little caffeine (anywhere from 10 to 25 milligrams per serving.)

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    You Ask, I Answer: Dunkin’ Donuts Healthier Options

    Dunkin’ Donuts recently came out with their new line of “DDSmart” options.

    I am wondering what you think of them.

    — Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    Dunkin’ Donuts defines its DDSmart options as those that are “reduced in calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, or sodium by at least 25 percent compared to base product or other appropriate reference product” and/or “contain ingredients that are nutritionally beneficial.”

    Technically, then, a 600 calorie muffin laden with sugar and saturated fat could be labeled “DDSmart” if it meets criteria #2 (healthful ingredients) by adding a sprinkle of ground flaxseed.

    In essence, they are setting up guidelines that enable them to label some not-so-great options as “DDSmart.”

    This is why corporate, self-imposed nutrition criteria is always slightly suspect.

    Consider, for instance, the inclusion of a 450 calorie blueberry muffin. It’s a “DDSmart” option simply because it contains a quarter less fat than a traditional blueberry muffin.

    What you aren’t being told is that there is only a sixty calorie difference between the two muffins.

    Dunkin’ Donuts is counting on people to think “oh, it’s a low fat muffin! It must be low-calorie, too!”

    This nebulous advertising clearly demonstrates why calorie labeling is so crucial.

    Another odd DDSmart choice? The egg and cheese English muffin, which provides a quarter of a day’s worth of saturated fat and a third of the sodium daily limit.

    If healthful ingredients is what they are looking for, why not at least bump the fiber content up by using 100% whole wheat English muffins?

    The least offensive item — apart from low-calorie coffees made with skim milk — is the egg white and vegetable flatbread sandwich.

    The multigrain bread contains some whole wheat flour and the entire sandwich clocks in at 290 calories. Still, you’re looking at 680 milligrams of sodium.

    The smartest thing you can do is not depend on fast food companies for your daily breakfast needs.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Skim vs. 2% Milk

    I’m still confused about which kind [of milk] to buy.

    [Reduced fat, or 2%] tastes better than skim, but is it too high in fat for daily consumption?

    — Anonymous
    Via the blog

    “Reduced fat” (2%) milk isn’t really that high in total fat.

    An eight-ounce cup of it contains 123 calories and five grams of fat.

    This certainly isn’t as high as the 13.5 grams of fat in a tablespoon of olive oil or the 164 calories and 14.3 grams of fat in a serving of almonds.

    The main concern with reduced fat and whole milk is the amount of saturated, not total, fat.

    Whereas that serving of almonds I mentioned above only provides 1.1 grams of saturated fat, the cup of reduced fat milk contains 3.1 grams of saturated fat.

    That said, I think there is too much milk hysteria.

    It is one thing to worry about using whole milk in a 24 ounce latte (where half the beverage consists of milk).

    However, someone who only drinks one cup of coffee with two tablespoons of milk in it each day should not be that worried about the type of milk they use.

    Consider the facts below:

    Two tablespoons of skim milk contain 12 calories and 0.1 grams of saturated fat.

    Two tablespoons of reduced fat (2%) milk contain 16 calories and 0.4 grams of saturated fat.

    Two tablespoons of whole milk contain 19 calories and 0.6 grams of saturated fat.

    That is one situation where I suggest using two tablespoons of whatever milk you like best, since the differences are rather minimal.

    Additionally, if someone is already cutting calories, drinking their sole cup of coffee with whole — rather than skim — milk may help feel less deprived and, therefore, stay more motivated with the rest of their new eating regimen.

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    In The News: Get In Shape! Yes, Sir!

    Here’s one example of childhood and adolescent obesity having consequences one might not initially think of: “the Army has been dismissing so many overweight applicants that its top recruiter, trying to keep troop numbers up in wartime, is considering starting a program to transform chubby trainees into svelte soldier,”reports The Washington Post.

    Obesity tops the list of reasons preventing applicants from entering the military — more so than “a lack of a GED or high school diploma, misconduct or criminal behavior, and other health issues such as eye or ear problems.”

    Recruiters estimate that 30 percent of all applicants are considered, pardon the pun, “unfit” as a result of their overweight or obese status.

    And it’s not just the military feeling this crunch — firefighting department across the country are finding themselves with an increasingly larger number of young, overweight applicants unable to pass the necessary fitness tests.

    And so come to the usual question: how do we remedy this situation?

    We know that obesity is a multi-layered issue that calls, among other things, targeted public policy, education, and access to healthy foods.

    In the meantime, how about mandatory physical education through twelfth grade?

    The “stay active” part of the formula appears to be missing in too many places.

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    In The News: The Chopsticks Diet

    Japanese chef Kimiko Barber’s The Chopsticks Diet is the latest weight-loss book to hit bookstore shelves in England.

    Part of the logic behind the book is that, as the author told London’s Daily Telegraph, “the human brain takes 20 minutes to register what the stomach contains, so using chopsticks slows a person’s consumption, leaving them feeling satisfied while eating less.”

    True, but there are a few caveats.

    All of the recipes in the book are high in fiber and low in calories, making them suitable for weight loss whether eaten with a fork or chopsticks.

    So, really, what we have is what the majority of diet books are: tried and true, decades-old advice wrapped in a new and shiny cover.

    Although the advice of slowing down by eating with chopsticks makes sense within the context of, say, obscene large portions of fried rice or noodle dishes, it is not applicable to the main sources of excess calories in people’s diets (try having soda, ice cream, or chips with chopsticks.)

    It’s also important to be aware of what you are putting between those chopsticks. Sushi rolls with tempura (fried) fish and globs of mayonnaise are no recipe for weight loss!

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    Numbers Game: Global Nutrition

    According to statistics from the World Health Organization, low intake of fruits and vegetables is estimated to be the major factor behind ______ percent of gastrointestinal cancer cases and _______ percent of ischaemic heart disease in the world.

    a) 14/22
    b) 41/8

    c) 19/31

    d) 22/26

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Thursday for the answer!

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    You Ask, I Aswer: Kefir

    [For whatever reason,] it seems that the only dairy I can somehow tolerate is kefir.

    Is it simply liquefied yogurt?

    — Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    There’s a rather simple explanation as to why kefir is the only dairy you can somehow tolerate — it contains a significant number of probiotic bacteria that help break down lactose!

    Probiotic bacteria is the same reason why people who can not tolerate milk can often enjoy yogurt with active cultures.

    That said, kefir and yogurt are two different foods.

    Unlike yogurt, kefir contains kefir grains (which house all that healthy bacteria), which are then left to ferment in milk.

    Although plain kefir is a healthy addition to a diet thanks to its share of calcium and potassium, beware of “kefir-based” ready-to-drink smoothies which contain teaspoon upon teaspoon of added sugars (AKA extra calories).

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    The surface area of an average dinner plate in the United States increased 36 percent from 1960 to 2005.

    Source: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink.

    This is particularly problematic for “visual eaters” for whom the amount of food on a plate plays a role in their psychological satiety, as well as for those individuals cutting calories.

    A lower-calorie eating plan in and of itself is a big enough enough adjustment for most people; seeing large plates with small amounts of food on them certainly doesn’t help matters.

    I know from my own experience, for example, that a single scoop of ice cream looks paltry in a soup bowl, but just right when served in a coffee cup.

    The times when I have scooped ice cream into a soup bowl, I always end up piling on another scoop because that bowl seems empty!


    Take a look at the image accompanying this post. Doesn’t the plate on the left make you feel somewhat less satisfied than the one on the right?

    Imagine the following. You are on a buffet line, filling your plate with food.

    Isn’t it very probable that since a larger plate holds more food, you are more likely to pile more food on it than if you were provided with a smaller plate?

    And, going off of Brian Wansink’s research that it is very easy to lose track of calories when large amounts of food are sitting in front of us, isn’t it also very probable that the use of a larger plate is very likely to result in a higher caloric intake?

    I certainly think so.

    Just one more factor to consider when thinking about weight management.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Serving Sizes

    I looked at the nutrition label for Jif To Go and now I am extremely confused.

    The label lists two serving sizes.

    One is for the whole cup, [which contains] 390 calories.

    The [other serving size is for] “1/2 cup (32g)” which has 190 calories.

    Okay, fine. But then I look at the regular standard jar of Jif peanut butter, and its label says:”2 Tablespoons(32g)=190 calories.”

    [What I can’t understand] is how, according to these two labels, a half cup of peanut butter weighs as much as two tablespoons?

    — Corey Clark
    (location withheld)


    Ah, good ol’ serving size puzzles.

    Let’s work this one out.

    The “1 cup” mentioned on the Jif-to-Go food label is not a literal 1 cup measurement, but rather refers to container (AKA “cup”) of Jif-to-Go, which contains four tablespoons of peanut butter.

    In other words, one Jif to Go cup (notice my wording — it is very different from saying “a cup of Jif To Go”) contains a quarter cup of peanut butter.

    Therefore, half a container of Jif To Go offers the standard two-tablespoon serving you see on peanut butter jars.

    Dizzy yet?

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    You Ask, I Answer: Olive Oil Regulations

    Your post on the adulteration of olive oil freaks me out as I had no idea about this.

    I recently mentioned this to a friend who told me that she didn’t quite buy into this.

    [She said] food was tested and regulated by the government.

    [Since that] post is from a year ago, [do you have] any updates, Andy?

    — Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    I’m afraid there aren’t many updates to that posting.

    The United States still has not joined the International Olive Oil Council, and olive oil adulteration is alive and well throughout the world.

    I’m not too sure what your friend isn’t buying into. After all, The Food & Drug Administration performs random tests on olive oil entering the United States.

    Adulterated oils making their way in from abroad — and being produced nationally! — is not a far-fetched idea.

    There simply are not enough resources to test every single bottle. Hence, high-profile cases of olive oil adulteration come to light once these products are on supermarket shelves — NOT when they arrive to US shores.

    Additionally, dishonest manufacturers know how to play the game.

    They know how to make these lower-quality oils pass as genuine olive oil in the administered tests. That is precisely why many olive oil experts are calling for more detailed biochemical examination of samples.

    Olive oil adulteration is not an undocumented urban legend.

    Your friend might be interested in reading this. Or this. And this.

    In the meantime, if this is a concern for you, I recommend purchasing your olive oil from any of the California Olive Oil Council’s approved producers.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Rice Paper/Summer Rolls

    One of my favorite Thai appetizers is summer rolls.

    I notice that the rice paper they use to make them is chewy and dense.

    Is that because it has a lot of fat in it?

    — Virginia Alston
    New York, NY

    I share your sentiment, Virginia. I can’t go to a Thai restaurant and not order summer rolls!

    Not only are they delicious (the ones I had tonight were filled with lettuce, mango, avocado, carrot, cucumber, and cilantro), but also healthy.

    Unlike spring rolls, summer rolls are not deep fried. Instead, all the ingredients are simply enclosed in rice paper.

    Apart from being a tasty way to add some vegetables to your day, you also get some heart-healthy monounsaturated fat if they contain avocado or are accompanied by a peanut or almond butter-ish dip.

    Your average appetizer order of summer rolls provides a mere 45 to 50 calories from the rice paper alone.

    About 95 percent of these calories are derived from carbohydrates.

    For comparison purposes, one medium sheet of rice paper contains a third of the carbohydrates in one regular slice of bread.

    The reason behind its chewiness is not lots of fat, but the inclusion of tapioca.

    The other ingredients are simply rice flour, water, and a pinch of salt.

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